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What will post-pandemic travel look like?

We'll definitely see more of an emphasis on the outdoors, as people avoid crowded spaces.

The travel industry has been one of the hardest hit during this pandemic. With much of the world in lockdown, passenger airline traffic is down 95 percent, hotels are nearly empty, and tour operators are unemployed. The industry will rebound eventually, as the urge to travel is hardwired into many humans, but it's unlikely to look exactly the same as it did before 2020.

This pandemic has made many people realize that they're uncomfortable with the old ways of doing things. There are new aversions to crowds and tight spaces, public door handles and keypads, and going places that you can't escape easily, such as cruise ships. The New York Times took a look at what travel will become, once the pandemic settles down, and I'd like to highlight some of the points that tie in nicely to what we write about here on Treehugger.

1. The return of the road trip

People are itching to get out of their houses, but not badly enough to hop on a plane. The solution? A good old-fashioned road trip. As many states loosen travel restrictions, they're encouraging people to move around within their home state to help boost local businesses. A road trip in one's own vehicle allows for a sense of control; it's easy to get home when you need to, and you know whose germs are in your space.

Simultaneously, the sense of closeness that many families may have developed during this time will likely continue for a while, making it easier than ever to imagine travelling together in a cozy vehicle. It's still like isolation, but a bit more stimulating. Road tripping is also more affordable than plane travel, which is attracted to the many people dealing with smaller pay checks.

2. The prioritization of cleanliness

Travellers generally expect a clean hotel room or rental house when they arrive, and would likely complain if it didn't meet their standards, but now those standards will be higher than ever. We're about to become obsessed with cleanliness (if we aren't already), as we emerge from the safety of our homes, to the point that it could become the top priority of accommodations providers, more so than comfortable beds, plush towels, and swanky service. The New York Times said travellers can expect to see housekeeping services “front and center” in hotels:

“Where hotel lobbies once aimed for warmth, expect a cold but gleaming scene, with custodians frequently circulating with disinfectant. Pens and other knickknacks likely to be touched by other guests will be replaced with sanitizing wipes. Major hotel companies are experimenting with electrostatic spraying to disinfect interiors, and ultraviolet light to sanitize room keys.”

The article also references touchless check-ins (maybe via smartphone apps), contact-free room service, and door seals that indicate rooms haven't been entered since cleaning. There's increasing demand already for exterior corridors on hotels and direct car-to-room access.

3. House-sharing will rebound.

While some people may be grossed out at the thought of staying in a private home where they don't know who's been there before, many will prefer it for the privacy. In someone's home, you're surrounded by fewer people than if you're in a hotel or resort, which means fewer germs. House-sharing platforms will crack down on cleaning policies, and guests will be more ruthless about rating rentals on their hygiene.

“Listings on Airbnb will soon indicate whether hosts are practicing stringent new cleaning guidelines, including a minimum 24-hour waiting period between bookings. A new category of listings will indicate no guest has occupied a rental 72 hours before arrival.”

House-sharing also has a promising future as more people embark on domestic road trips and strive to get out of urban areas, where most hotels are located. To quote Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, “Hotels are in cities; they need a minimum market size. Airbnb is in 100,000 cities and towns.”

4. The new appeal of nature

reading in the forest© K Martinko

Travellers will be rightly nervous about crowds and anxious to avoid them. That will result in an explosion of visitors to national parks, wilderness preserves, mountains, beaches, and other places where crowds are less likely to be encountered. Travel companies are expecting a surge of interest in wide-open spaces like Mongolia, Tibet, and Galapagos. This will pose new problems, of course. From the New York Times,

“We’re going to have to create new norms of how to behave around one another in national parks to create space,” said Will Shafroth, the president and chief executive of the National Park Foundation, the nonprofit organization devoted to the national parks, adding that the boardwalk around the Old Faithful geyser in Yellowstone National Park may be one-way-only when it reopens.

I've already said this could be the start of the golden age of camping, as people want to get outside while remaining socially distant, using their own gear, and spending less money.

5. The rise of wellness tourism

Health is at the forefront of everyone's minds these days, and it is safe to assume it'll stay there for a long time yet. Simultaneously, people are sick of being indoors, so it's likely that tourism will reflect an increasing urge to promote good health while getting outside. Intrepid Travel's CEO James Thornton told the Times, “If 2020 proves to be a year we spend a lot of time indoors, 2021 will be about getting outdoors and getting active, with tours centered around things like cycling, trekking and mindfulness.” I can see canoe trips, ski trips, fishing trips, and rustic wilderness retreats taking precedence over fancy resorts and luxury cruises.

It remains to be seen what the post-pandemic travel industry will look like, but these are reasonable predictions. In general, they paint a picture of a world that could be slower-moving and kinder to the planet than what we had before. Here's to hoping we've learned important lessons from this experience and will be more cautious going forward.

We'll definitely see more of an emphasis on the outdoors, as people avoid crowded spaces.